Higgins a Pretty Sure Bet for Now
Seven years ago, Michael D Higgins fought and survived what was one of the most vicious political campaigns witnessed. The Presidential Election of 2011 was a bloodbath. Of course, a Presidential Election by its nature is very much about candidates, rather than policies, the campaign inevitably focuses on the personality. In 2011, the media took great delight in tearing into one candidate after another as the campaign progressed, until only two serious contenders remained standing in the week before the election.
In the last 2-3 weeks Sean Gallagher took what looked like an unassailable lead in the polls, conducted both by RED C for this paper and others at the time. He had gained support over that time as other candidates were wiped out by heavy media attention. On the final weekend before polling, Gallagher had a lead of 14% over Higgins, with the poll suggesting that he had 40% of the first preference vote. A week later at the vote itself, the positions had been reversed, with Higgins securing 40% of the vote and Gallagher trailing him at 29%. Based on the last Presidential Election then, it would appear that anything is possible, and huge leads in the polls can be overtaken.
For those competing against incumbent Michael D Higgins, they had better hope so! The results from this early poll on the Presidential Election 2018 suggest any of those challenging Higgins, will need a miracle to overtake him.
For Sean Gallagher, or any of the other nominated candidates, to overtake the incumbent Michael D. Higgins to win this election, it certainly appears that a miracle is required. The poll sees Higgins secure 67% of the vote among those registered and likely to vote in the election in just over a months’ time. That is a massive majority of voters, even despite the fact that the campaign proper hasn’t begun. It would appear to be a mountain for any of the other candidates to climb. The next closest competitor is Sean Gallagher again, but he secures just 15% of the first preference vote at this stage, some 52% behind Higgins.
More worrying for Sean Gallagher is that we also asked voters which candidates they might consider giving a vote to, in order to understand the potential available for each candidate. At this stage just 20% consider they might vote for him. So even though the final candidate list may differ, the opportunity for him to extend his vote share appears limited at this stage.
For those coming after Gallagher it doesn’t get any better. A possible Sinn Fein candidate secures just 7% of the first preference vote. At the time of the poll we didn’t know the name of the nominated candidate, and of course this may help their vote share rise. However, the reality is that with 14% vote share in this poll, only just half of all Sinn Fein supporters currently suggest they would vote for a Sinn Fein candidate over Higgins. Which doesn’t give much hope for the candidate when they are named.
After that Gavin Duffy gets just 6% of the first preference vote and Joan Freeman secures just 3% in this poll. It is also the case that none of them can take any solace from the consideration measure, which suggests that the room for growth is limited for all.
Based on these figures, surely there is absolutely no chance that Michael D. Higgins can lose this election? Well those looking at the last Presidential Election may suggest that anything is possible. But don’t forget that the major flip in support in 2011 was based on an extraordinary series of events. Whatever the rights and wrongs about the events surrounding Sean Gallagher’s demise last time around, the 14% shift in support from one candidate to another, was an extraordinary change in support among the public, that many didn’t believe could possibly happen.
So how on earth could any sequence of events now overturn a 50%+ lead in support for the first preference vote? Particularly when you consider that he survived the last campaign, that took down so many other candidates.
Surely anything that could have been thrown at him, already has been? His support is slightly better among young voters who are less likely to vote, and slightly worse among older voters who are more likely to vote. But the impact of these younger voters not turning out, would be minimal in light of his current lead.
Over and above this Michael D. Higgins has had seven years to become the people’s favourite, helped along by two photogenic dogs that even the most hard-nosed political analysts in our office still love. It seems that whatever happens in the next few weeks, Higgins position is on face value pretty unassailable.
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